Notes From the Road: Singapore Swing

Everyone I know who has been to Singapore has told me that they adore the city with its orderliness, it cleanliness, and its shear beauty. I was anticipating a wonderful visit, but I certainly wasn’t expecting a fabulous flight from Hong Kong to Singapore. I chose Singapore Airlines because they offered a better deal than Cathay Pacific, the two carriers that fly the route.

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Little did I know that the airline service would be superb, so much so that when the plane landed after a four-hour flight, neither Charles nor I was ready to disembark. When the stunning, petite flight attendants in their long dresses with matching shoes first welcomed us aboard, we were given a lovely book. This turned out to be a menu that highlighted chefs from around the world who had chosen their favorite dishes for lunch, and sommeliers who chose the wines from different countries, as well as XO cognac, Charles Heidsieck champagne, a page of listings for teas, and well you have the picture. My lamb and Charles’ shrimp were perfectly cooked, and I asked how they managed to get them so impeccably done. I was told that they watch the oven just like a restaurant, not a galley. Pampered and thoroughly comfortable we both fell asleep and enjoyed a long afternoon nap.

I had pre-booked a car to take us to our hotel. The dour driver managed to get lost, but eventually we made it to the Ritz Carlton. It was situated on the harbor with a view of the spectacular and somewhat ridiculous looking Marina Bay Sands Hotel with a massive roof that resembled a cruise ship adjoining three towers. We had an expansive view of the marina and beyond from every window, including one over the huge bathtub. This very elegant hotel also had a book to offer us with a listing of all the art that was on display, everything from Chihuly, to Frank Stella and Henry Moore.

Marina Bay Sands with ship on roof

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view from the tub

We arrived late in the day and skipped dinner, but had a drink in the lobby lounge and listened to a wonderful American jazz singer.  Then we trotted off to bed. I was up early for a morning swim in the outdoor pool that was undergoing some renovation, but the unheated water was refreshing as Singapore was very hot, about 90F/32C even at 7:00am. Charles worked out in the state of the art gym. All this exercise was necessary because we absolutely gorged ourselves at breakfast. In fact neither of us had ever seen such a wealth of food offerings.

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breakfasts amid art

There wasn’t just one room with buffet tables, but 3 or four with different selections and themes, everything from dim sum, to nasi goring,crispy fried chicken, ( I can’t believe that I had that for breakfast),eggs benedict with smoked salmon, Indian, Chinese, Thai stations, anything we wanted cooked to order, cheese trolleys, a bakery, cured meats, fruits from around the world and so on. We were astonished at the cornucopia of choices, took full advantage and were set for the day, with no lunch required.

more art and more food

Most cities we visit on our travels offer a hop on hop off open-air bus, and Singapore was no exception. We got instructions from the concierge where to find it supposedly a short walk from the hotel, but a half hour later we were stymied. Eventually we found someone who knew and we started on our explorations. The Botanic Gardens, a Unesco Heritage Site, situated in the heart of the city, was our first stop. It was particularly splendid with its special orchid area. We walked in this Colonial Garden that was created in 1859, and enjoyed the views, flowers and looking at the people, but it was now not just hot, but very humid. We needed some refreshment.

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musicians in the gardens

One of our to do items was to go to Raffles Hotel, have a Singapore Sling at The Long Bar, and toast my friend, Marlene, back in Canada, who had suggested this. As there were restorations in progress at the Long Bar, we settled with the charming bar in the courtyard outside. We bumped into some other tourists, and shared stories of our wanderings. The famous, extremely expensive drink (almost everything in Singapore is expensive) was disappointing in its sweetness, perhaps stylish once.

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Back on the bus, we toured around and got a sense of our surroundings and the gorgeous city. Then we decided to visit the Marina Bay Sands Hotel with the ship on top, and have a drink there. We had to pay to go to the bar at the top of the hotel, but could get it back in the value of our drinks. On the roof it was hardly a surprise, very touristy and commercial, but the view was superlative, and some icy cold Rosé helped in the extreme heat.

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infinity pool atop Marina Bay Sands hotel

Nap time and then a bubble bath. Now as part of our booking for our cruise we got a special upgrade from the travel agent see blog https://suddenly70.ca/2017/04/30/notes-from-the-road-hong-kong/, and some perks which included the luxurious breakfast, a $100 discount and a bubble bath. Bubble bath? So I booked one, and waited for the arrival of a staff member. However, after an interminable length of time waiting for the lady from the spa, I inquired just what the ‘Bubble Bath’ was. Someone fills the tub and puts in bubble bath. Voilà! Think I can handle that myself .

After catching up with emails, we dressed for dinner at the one Michelin star restaurant, Summer Pavilion off the lobby. I thing these stars are easy to come by in Asia as the food in the restaurant was good, but not great, although the décor was exquisite.

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beautifully set table with lazy susan in centre

Friday morning, our second day, I had booked a tour by Indie Singapore, which I discovered on Trip Advisor. I had exchanged many emails with our tour guide, Wei, and we planned to meet at a metro stop near Chinatown. But first I had my delicious morning swim and Charles worked out. We decided not to eat as much breakfast as the day before, so I chose only shrimp dumplings, chicken pie, fried eggs, nann bread, fresh orange juice, and I had to try the croissant. Hmm.

Wei insisted that we visit Singapore’s Chinatown with him even though I told him we had a pretty terrific Chinatown in Toronto. He said this was unique and it was. Wei is an accomplished, knowledgeable, entertaining young man. It was a very hot, humid and sunny day. Surprise! And we stood in the shade of one of the many stores and listened to the history of Singapore with its coolies and colonial rule.

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sculpture of a coolie

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Charles and Wei outside temple

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seat on the subway with sign

We visited the Hindu, Sri Mariamman Temple, and the Buddhist, Buddha Tooth Relic Temple. Although they both were spectacular in their own ways, we started to get an inkling that we would visit many temples on our trip in Asia, and did eventually get templed-out. We wandered the markets, and Wei promised we would return before we left Chinatown so I could do some shopping. We watched groups of men playing Chinese chess in a makeshift park on the street, and went to one of the Hawkers Centres and were convinced to eat some lunch, even though we were both full from our glutinous breakfast.

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Now a hawker center is actually like a Food court in North America. One big difference is the fact that each food stall is rated by the government for cleanliness. They each have a large letter beside them from A-D starting with A the best, B the next cleanest etc. You can be assured that the food will be fresh and the cooking of it up to standard. I am always careful about eating street food when we are travelling, so this is a very good practice. Wei took us to his favorite, Tian Tian, and we shared the Haianese chicken rice, which turned out to be silky gingery chicken on very tasty rice. See the recipe on the link above for this delicious chicken that is slow cooked and then immersed in ice water. We also marveled at the long line up for the One Michelin starred hawker stand. The line can last about an hour and you can get to the end of it and find that there is no more of this famous dish.

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Hawker truck on the street

Wei took us to a posh government building that houses an impressive model of Singapore set on a large platform. It was informative to see the buildings and layout in this manner. After as we wandered by medicine shops where Wei’s family buy their special potions, we saw a dried lizard stretched on a pole which in some way is good for asthma and other ailments. My hand below.

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dried lizard/geiko-ji

We kept noticing signs about NO Durians allowed and wondered what on earth was a Durian.  You can read the details on the link, but it is a large prickly fruit that for some has a pleasant smell and taste, but for many many others it has a putrid smell, and eating of the fruit in public is prohibited many places.

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Sated, but not with durian fruit, we walked to one of the government sponsored condominium towers. Wei explained that you could buy into this reasonable accommodation through a lottery. No co-habitation (unmarried couples living together) allowed, and you have a better chance of scoring one of these prized units if you live near your parents. Apparently the government builds these and offers them at cost. You can keep your apartment for 5 years and then sell it, make a profit, and perhaps move to a larger unit. We visited one building, and took an elevator up to see the environment of these affordable flats, which was airy, clean and plant filled. We could see hundreds of them in large buildings all over the incredibly expensive city. When I asked him about government housing and services he told me, ‘Government housing is mostly affordable (theoretically, you can get one on a household income of SGD$1000/month). $50 SGD is equivalent to approximately $48 Cdn and $38 US. For those that cannot afford, we do have halfway houses and rental homes. Rental homes by the government cost about SGD$150/month. And there is government assistance for people who cannot afford that… meaning the rental can be waived if there is sufficient cause.’

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government condo housing three views

I finally got to do some shopping in the open-air stalls in Chinatown. I bought a gorgeous red silk long caftan, some cotton traditional Asian shirts for walking around in the heat, and some gifts, everything at very cheap prices, under $50 all in. I wouldn’t let Charles purchase the jacket below, even though it was so colourful. I saw the Singapore airlines flight attendants’ uniforms on a mannequin, and was told by the shop keeper, as she was chuckling away, that If I bought one, I could wear it, and fly free.

We went to Kampong Glam, a Malay enclave, and wandered the streets. We actually saw a piece of garbage on the sidewalk, unusual and noticeable. Singapore is proudly pristine. By late afternoon after walking for 5 hours, we were wearing down from the heat. Wei was terrific, constantly giving the history of the various places we visited and also adding personal anecdotes. He made a real difference to our comprehension of life in Singapore.

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a busy Kampong Glam street with smells of rich coffee

On our final evening we planned to eat at a restaurant suggested by the lounge manager in the Four Seasons Hotel in Hong Kong, see blog: https://suddenly70.ca/2017/04/30/notes-from-the-road-hong-kong/, who said that Jumbo Seafood was not to be missed. He was a Singaporean and so enthusiastic about this place that we took a long taxi ride to reach it. Neon lights, large parking lot, sea breeze and we had arrived.

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happy diner-note plastic gloves

What an experience! The place at the East Coast Seafood Centre on the water was packed with hundreds of locals and we were offered a seat by the cash register. I had reserved a table, and the manager said the riverside tables can’t be reserved, and I said okay, ‘pretend we didn’t reserve’. He reluctantly took us to a table for 6, cleared away the extra places and sat us down. We were in the midst of a throng of large, noisy families and scored a waitress who seemed to understand our needs; first some wine, and second we wanted to try the famous chili crab. She looked at us, laughed and told us she would arrange the ‘hot’ quotient of our meal. We gathered that there could be some real spice in this dish. She brought us bottles of water (I never drink tap water while travelling), some cold wine, paper bibs, and plastic gloves. She also brought some strange vegetable because she said I looked as if I would like that, and I did.

Then the tour de force, the chili crabs in massive bowls, floating in sauce and crab meat. The crabs were whole and we had to tear them apart, reason for the gloves. There were no napkins, and we used the long tablecloth to wipe our mouths. The crab was simply delectable, so tasty, just the right amount of firepower and we had a ball. It was so messy, but doable. The man at the next table must have ordered his extra hot because he pulled his tee shirt up to his neck exposing a grand belly while wiping his face, and gleefully ate his crab. Very classy.

Taxied back to the hotel, (the taxis are the only inexpensive thing in Singapore), a nightcap in the lounge, and a good sleep. In the morning our swim/work out routine, a lighter breakfast, and then a very long walk around the quay. We took a little boat ride through the downtown, seeing the city from the water, travelling under bridges, and passing by the famous Singapore icon, Merlion, a statue of a fish body(mermaid) with a lion’s head. We stopped at the famed Fullerton Hotel for a cold drink, as the sweat dripped off our backs from the heat. The art deco interior was stunning, but the service and quality of the place was definitely lacking.

Merlion fountain

Midday we packed up and headed to the ferry terminal to join our cruise for the rest of our Asian adventure. I look forward to sharing with you our upcoming experiences in Thailand, Cambodia and Viet Nam.

I hope you are enjoying my blogs and invite you to comment. I also urge you to click on the hyperlinks as there is so much more information about topics there. More than I can include, as well as some great pictures.

Always,

Riki

2 thoughts on “Notes From the Road: Singapore Swing

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